by Master Taíno
People often ask for the true meaning of a Leather Family. The reality is that the concept of Leather Family means different things to different people. What I will try to do in this essay is to summarize the most common uses of the concept of Leather Family.
The need for belonging in some way to a Leather Family can come from the natural need that we all have to “belong.” Also it has a lot to do with the fact that many of us cannot share who we really are with our biological families. And some have even been disowned by their families for being gay, kinky, or for being in a Dominant/ submissive or Master/slave relationship. Thus the strong need for many to form or be part of what we call a “Leather Family.”
During his speech at the International Mr. Leather Contest in 1989, Guy Baldwin, explained his own experience and what many of us also experience within our own families:
”There is a reason my family does not know me and does not particularly want to know me any better than they do, and that reason is that I am very different from them. I am a Leatherman, and they know it. Fortunately, I have another family, a much larger family of people who know, love, trust and respect me – my leather family. It is my most sincere wish that each of you will create for yourselves just such a supplemental family, because in these times when we are under attack from so many directions, we all need the support that can only come from such a family…”
Guy Baldwin’s speech inspired many at that time, but it is even more relevant today for all of us. Although his words refer to the Leather Community as that “family,” he also encouraged all of us to create such families. And that is what has happened in ways that we all can be proud. Kinky folks – gay and straight – have been creating such families in the ways that work for them.
Being isolated or not accepted by our biological families is just one aspect of the ordeal many Leather/kinky/fetish folks face in their lives. Very often, gay kinky folks are despised by other gay guys for our lifestyle in Leather, BDSM or Master/slave. The same sometimes happens to those among us who have embraced our calling to be in Master/slave relationships. Sometimes other Leather or kinky folks do not understand our Master/slave dynamic and push us aside. So there is a natural need to be among those who love and accept us for who we are.
Baldwin, who is a psychotherapist and now considered a Leather icon, probably said it better in his book, Ties That Bind:
“Just what is a “leather family?” This is the group of people who care about us enough to share the important feelings and experiences that come with living life. For me, this always includes the leather/SM/fetish parts of myself. With these people, we can be ourselves and not feel the need to hide the important parts of ourselves. They discover and like the fact that we are good people and that we have good intentions…. Our values about what is important in life are similar enough to create respect and tolerance for those differences that inevitably emerge in all relationships. We cherish each other in different degrees at different times.”
Let me try to explain the most common concepts of Leather Families as we know them. By no means do I pretend to be an expert on the topic but the following is based on my personal experience and what I have learned from my elders.
• The Community – Many of us like to refer to the Leather Community – or any of their subcultures – as our Leather Family. In this community we feel like family because we are among like-minded individuals who share a lot in common with us. Others as well see a segment of the community as their family, for example, the members of their Leather Club, organization, event, etc.
• Our closest friends – It is very common for us to refer to our closest Leather or Kinky friends as “our Leather Family” as well. I have many of those. People who have been with me alongside my journey and whom I consider brothers and sisters but they do not belong to my formal Leather Family. When we are with our closest kinky friends, we are in family.
• The Households – There are many of us who live together in a household and as a family. In my case, it is I and my slaves. We are a household and a family. Other households in the Leather Community are integrated by three or more people who are partners among themselves. Several years ago, there was an International Mr Leather titleholder from Florida who lived with his two partners. And they are family. Sometimes there is a couple that brings in a third person as part of their household and family. Sometimes there are two Masters with several slaves. A household can be built in many ways. Each person does it in a way that works for him or her. And there is nothing that will not allow just a couple to consider themselves a Leather Family.
• Back-patch Leather Family – This is something that is seen more and more recently. This is where I have evolved in the past few years. My family is now integrated by members in addition to my three live-in slaves. Currently I have a female Senior Master, and two straight and one gay Junior Masters. These members do not live with me, but in different cities like Arlington, Virginia; New York City, Virginia Beach and Indianapolis. They all wear a leather vest with our family crest patch on the back. Not all of these types of families have or wears patches but there is a trend in that direction.
Using my own family and many others as an example, we see many of our families crossing the sexual orientation and gender barriers. As I mentioned above, my Leather Family is now integrated by a female Senior Master and two heterosexual male Masters. In the past, I had a straight female slave as well. One of my slaves is bisexual. I have many friends who own slaves of different sexual orientation or gender, or have such individuals in their families.
It is important to know that there is not a blueprint on how to form a Leather Family. I always advise people to build their families in a way that works for them. We can always learn new ideas from other families, but we have to do it our way, the way we envision it, the way we want it to work, the kind of members we want, the protocols we care about, etc.
That also goes for the name. There are family structures whose head-of-household prefers to call them tribes, households, or house, etc. They are all fine. Choose the name that works for you.
Even though leather families are common across the full spectrum of the Leather, Kinky, Fetish and BDSM community, it is becoming more common among those living in Master/slave relationships. Perhaps this is a result of Masters wanting to own more than one slave. Sometimes a dominant couple may head the household. The fact that those of us who are living the Master/slave dynamic are into multiple relationships automatically makes us more prone to create Leather families.
Another interesting factor is the transition between generations. I am also a strong believer that we older Leathermen – to whom sometimes the younger generations refer as the “elders” – have an obligation to reach out, teach, and mentor those who are coming behind us. The three Junior Masters in my Leather Family reached out to me to mentor them. They eventually earned the invitation to be part of my family. When they were welcome into our family, they all were challenged to prepare themselves to one day wear our boots and become the leaders of the immediate future.
I always recommend that each family should have a purpose in which the members are involved. In my case, our purpose is the education of the Master/slave Community. All the members of my family, as well as many of the members of my extended family, share my passion for education and actively participate in our events like the Master/slave Conference or the MTTA Academy.
I also would like to share how during my journey I have felt validated after creating my Leather Family. On September 22, 2001, I lost my slave tommy to AIDS when he was only 37. His passing was one of the most powerful moments of my life and one that definitely validated the meaning of my Leather Family. During his last hour and until the moment he expired, I was next to his hospital bed holding his left hand. My other two slaves at the time, slave dave and slave mike, were holding each of my shoulders. All four of us were connected and sharing our energy during slave tommy’s final comments. That day I realized the real meaning of Leather Family.
Another anecdote from my early journey was when slave dave was ready to sign the renewal of his slave contract. I remember asking him what drove him to continue to be my slave. His response was: ”Sir, when we sit at the table for dinner each day, I got the feeling I belong”. That was precisely why I kept the tradition of eating together which I learned from my parents and did also with my children. Now, eating dinner together is a powerful statement for my slaves that we belong.
On special occasions, like on my traditional New Year’s Eve celebration, all the members of my Leather Family gather together at our household for a formal Leather Dinner together as a big family and welcome the New Year together.
In FetLife, the kinky social network, there is an option when building our profiles that we see very often: “In a Leather Family with…”. I assure you that for most people, it means different things and their concept of Leather Family may be very different from each other.
A warning that I will give to all is that the Leather Families and the multiple-relationships usually associated with them are not for everybody. Many folks cannot function beyond the traditional one-on-one relationships. Others like myself have always enjoyed relationships with more than one individual (and not all these relationships are sexual) and the concept of living as a family. As many other areas of our journeys, this is part of who we are, and is not for everybody. Your interest in a Leather Family should be genuine and coming from your heart, and not because it is fashionable and so many others are doing it.
Final thought: A Leather Family is the family of our choice, not an imposed one, but the one we choose and embrace.
© 2012 by Master Taíno. (Partial reproduction only allowed with previous permission of the author.)
The author is the founder of MTTA, Inc., a non-profit educational organization for the advancement of Master/slave relationships, Executive Producer of the Master/slave Conference and Director of the MTTA Academy.